Petroleum Commission Bill vests too much power on the Minister- Opposition

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The Parliamentary Opposition has made known its general disapproval of the Petroleum Commission Bill which was laid in the National Assembly by Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman. This bill seeks to pave the way for the setting up of an agency that would manage the impending oil and gas sector in Guyana.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo told a recent political meeting that the Bill in its current form is both “oily” and “slick”, and rather than being a Guyana Petroleum Commission, it appears to be more like a “Trotman Petroleum Commission”.

According to Jagdeo, the bill gives the minister too much power.

“This bill is very oily and slick, like Trotman. They (present Government) used to criticize us that Ministers had too many powers. They want to manage the oil money after promising a Sovereign Wealth Fund years now, and not coming up with (only) a draft or a model that will ensure the proper use of the money,” he remarked.

Once this Bill is passed and assented to by President David Granger, Trotman would be given the authority to terminate the board of the Guyana Petroleum Commission at any time. Jagdeo said the minister would also be granted the power to discharge the functions of the board if the board is not appointed.

“So, he now has the power of the entire board. The Minister can become chairman of the board if he doesn’t appoint a chairman. The Minister appoints the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary to the board. This is like a ‘Trotman Petroleum Commission’,” he asserted.

Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman

Jagdeo, an economist, also highlighted the fact that by establishing a reserve fund, a direct charge would be made on the Consolidated Fund.

“So, if they make a loss, then the money has to come from the Consolidated Fund to support this entity,” he explained. “These are the same people who were saying that we were creating slush funds outside, and they had to do an audit…where they said we had private accounts. They found $40 billion sitting there for bad days. The audit all came back clean,” he further explained.

The former Head of State also cautioned citizens to be careful and not fall prey to the many promises that the coalition Administration has made. In fact, Jagdeo described as absurd a suggestion made by Trotman when he promised people on the Essequibo Coast free gas in 2020.

“The people didn’t find a gas field, they found an oil field. The little gas it (would) have would be uneconomical to bring… to shore, and will cost millions (to so do). There is no demand, but they are promising free cooking gas already,” he pointed out.

Jagdeo also pointed to statements made by Trotman about establishing on Crab Island an oil facility that would create 10,000 jobs and cost US$500 million. However, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) General Secretary claimed he is still not clear how the Government plans to acquire this finance.

“They can’t find $9 billion to keep sugar and 10,000 jobs intact here, but they can spend US$500 million. But I want to wager you — because it is all hype — that nothing will happen at Crab Island… It is not feasible, and so the people in Rose Hall and New Amsterdam…will (not) get jobs, those people will be fooled. These people (Govt) have no credibility; you can’t believe anything they say,” Jagdeo declared.

Opposition Member of Parliament Irfaan Ali

While recognising that the bill is timely, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP) Member of Parliament Irfaan Ali said that when he scrutinised the bill closely, his party found that the independence of the Petroleum Commission is vigorously challenged in numerous sections.

“And this will certainly affect its ability to operate in a fair, open, objective, and non-discriminatory manner, as envisioned in section 6 subsection 1,” Ali told the National Assembly on Thursday.

In providing one example, Ali told the House that when one examines section 8 of the bill, which deals with the “Power of the Minister to give directions to the Commission,” it is clear that the Commission would hardly be able to work without the direction and control of the Minister.

According to section 8 of the bill, the Minister is allowed not only to provide policy guidance, but to also give direction to the Commission regarding a number of other issues. This includes the size of the establishment; the employment of staff, and the terms and conditions of employment; the provision of equipment, and use of funds; reorganization, or such works of development as to involve a substantial outlay on capital account; training, education and research; the disposal of capital assets; and the application of the proceeds of such disposals.

“Thus the Minister is literally empowered to dictate, inter alia, how many persons an independent Commission should employ; what should be the terms and conditions of employment for the staff of the Commission; how an independent Commission should use its funds etc.”

The former minister said that based on a review of similar legislation in other countries, his party was unable to locate one that gave comparable powers to the Minister. “Indeed, based on our review, we found that the only power the Minister is granted in other countries is the power to provide policy guidance,” the former minister disclosed.

Ali argued that the bill will not create an independent agency that would be able to carry out its mandate in a fair, transparent, non-discriminatory manner as similar agencies in oil producing countries do. Instead, the Bill would create an agency that is a sidekick or subservient creature of the Minister.

The bill provides for the establishment and functions of the Petroleum Commission of Guyana and for related matters. The bill has 51 sections which cover areas such as establishment and incorporation of the Petroleum Commission; functions and duties of the Commission; and financing, among others.

The Petroleum Commission Bill makes provision for the establishment of a Petroleum Commission to serve as a regulatory agency for Guyana’s oil and gas industry.

The establishment of a new regulatory agency will see the responsibility taken from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).

Minister Trotman read the Bill for a second time on Thursday, June 15. The bill will now be presented before a Special Select Committee for review.

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